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CIRCLE | R | MEDIA's commercial video production facility

Track lighting sets the mood for those working in the video control rooms while the completely patchable monitor bridge can be easily viewed from anywhere in the room.

Texas is not exactly the first place that comes to mind when considering hotspots of broadcast and production facilities in the United States. But Circle R Media aimed to change all that with the construction of a new facility in the heart of North Texas. The company replaced its existing facility with a 48,000sq-ft video, film and audio production facility that opened in downtown Fort Worth in May 2005.

Forward-thinking design

The first step to creating a world-class production facility was taken when Circle R Media hired Russ Berger Design Group (RBDG). In addition to baseline goals such as centralizing the facility's UPS system, the company presented RBDG with several important requirements, including:

  • creating a first-rate critical listening environment in the edit suites and control rooms;
  • increasing the studio grid height with a retractable grid system;
  • developing a space that was flexible and fully upgradable;
  • and enabling the company to independently run its own IT operations.

The 3800sq-ft sound stage comes complete with a DeSisti retractable lighting system equipped with 160 dimmers and HDC hoist digital control.

The high level of critical listening in the edit suites was achieved in part by having AEC — specialists in architectural noise control — install soundproofing wall fabrics to keep acoustics tuned within the rooms. In addition, the noisy equipment in the half height racks outside the suites was isolated. Perhaps most significantly, the new facility was constructed with a dual-floating slab and sound-sealed doors that ensure ultra-quiet rooms.

Circle R Media's previous facility was reasonably sized at 40,000sq ft, but it was designed around a central elevator system that created areas of unusable space. At 48,000sq ft, the new facility is only slightly larger, but with an absolute minimum of wasted space.

A high level of space efficiency was gained by installing a retractable grid system to increase the grid height in the studios. Of the new facility's three studios, the largest — which measures 83ft × 45ft with a grid height of 25ft — is equipped with a DeSisti retractable light grid system.

In addition to increasing the studio grid height, the system allows for quick set lighting changes and saves the company an average of two hours per shoot day. The light bars are autoload balancing, which eliminates the need to evenly space the lights on the bar. Also, because the system uses a series of hoists that can be lowered to the studio floor from a control panel, it's not necessary to use a lift or ladders to position each light above the set.

In keeping with the expectation that the new facility should last at least 15 years, Circle R Media put a good deal of thought into creating a space that was flexible and fully upgradable. This was achieved in part by using as much digital equipment as possible and upgrading the central routing to SDI digital video and AES/EBU digital audio. With the exception of a minimal amount of analog video monitoring and live audio equipment, 90 percent digital implementation was achieved in the new facility.

Studio A’s DeSisti lighting system contains movable, self-leveling battens and an HDC hoist digital control system.

The company also chose a Leitch Integrator Gold Series 128 x 128 router for its modularity, multiformat capabilities and upgrade path. The fully modular digital video, audio and machine-control router moves high-speed signals from up to 128 locations throughout the facility, making it easy to control complex production from a single point and provide superb-quality sound. And because the previous analog router was also made by Leitch, it was possible to reuse several of the route head controllers.

Upgradability was also foremost in mind when deciding on Signal Transport's modular panel system, which allows for quick termination of the proper room connections with the latest connector types.

Finally, as a newly independent private company, it was important that Circle R Media handle and manage its own IT operations. As a result, all the data connections in the facility were routed to terminate in the central machine room instead of the BDF closets. A firewall, exchange server, file servers and FTP server system were all installed. The company also had to provision its own connectivity into the campus and demark it at the central machine room. The extra work was extensive but well worth it because it provides the flexibility to react quickly to customers' IT needs.

Assembling the technology

The audio control room is isolated from the video control room, making for a more precise listening environment — the envy of any audiophile.

From the beginning of the project, it was determined that Circle R Media would use its in-house engineering staff for all system integration and installation, using VidCAD for systems documentation. The internal engineering staff consists of five full-time engineers with combined broadcast engineering experience of more than 100 years.

In terms of equipping the new facility, some equipment was simply transferred from the old facility to the new. This included Sony BVP-700A studio cameras that were deemed to have several more years of good use left on their life cycle.

Naturally, a good deal of new equipment was also acquired. The new editing systems are comprised of two Avid Media Composer Adrenalin HD systems, Avid Symphony, Avid Express Elite and an Avid DS|HD for finishing. For EFP, the company purchased a Panasonic AJ-HDX400, as well as the AJ-HD1200A DVCPRO HD VTR for its 1080i capability and for the open use software codec that easily interfaced with two new Apple Final Cut Pro HD systems. The Final Cut systems were chosen as a good complement to the facility's Avid systems with Unity storage for standalone productions that don't require a collaborative editing environment.

The facility’s engineers provide service to the three individual stages and two control rooms from one central area. Cameras, intercom stations, tallies and routers can all be easily switched from one to another in seconds.

Storage needs were met with the selection of an Apple XRAID for the Final Cut Pro HD systems, while an existing Unity drive system was upgraded to 4TB with 2Gb switching. ETC dimmers and controls were chosen for studio lighting, with systems varying in size from 48 channels in the small stage to 226 in the large stage. The grid and all the lighting instruments in the three studios, including battens and the dimmer control, are operated using DMX control.

The facility's graphics and animation studio was equipped with dual Xeon processors running on a gigabit backbone server. This technology was selected because it provides a render network of eight dual-processor servers that hasten the production of animation sequences. The main programs used are Maya, Adobe After Effects, Boujou motion tracking software and Smedge 2 for render farm management.

All of the new facility's video and audio control rooms were outfitted with soundproof soffits for possible future installation of projection systems. For the time being, however, Sony LMD2105 and LMD4420 LCD monitors were installed. This reduction of weight allowed for experimentation with a different monitor mounting scheme. The decision was made to use standard computer relay racks for monitor bridging to save space and give the bridges a streamlined look. The control rooms were also outfitted with power outlets at speaker height to allow the use of powered audio monitors, if required.

One of the most important technology decisions made in the new facility was to incorporate fiber optic as the main transmission method. Circle R chose to service its clients with fiber optic via Genesis Networks. This provides the ability to schedule and monitor loops over the Internet and vary bandwidth according to program needs. It has proven to be both cost-effective for the company and a great value for its clients.

The new facility is also hardwired to 11 locations at the nearby corporate office of RadioShack, one of Circle R Media's clients, including board rooms, model stores, training rooms and outdoor locations. The external locations are wired and terminated with triax, audio, video, hybrid copper fiber combo and single mode fiber, which enable the company to roll its studio cameras to these locations and broadcast to the more than 7000 RadioShack stores via EchoStar in Cheyenne, WY. By using hybrid and single-mode fiber, the company is assured of staying connected well into the future.

The bamboo flooring in the audio suites and video-audio control rooms sits atop a dual floating concrete slab foundation. This, along with the sound absorbing material on the walls, makes for an ultra-quiet working environment.

Challenges and completion

Although the project flowed well and was ultimately successful, the facility had a few minor challenges to overcome. Not the least of these challenges was how to create pristine acoustical integrity in a building facing one of the area's busiest thoroughfares.

Architecturally, it was necessary to place the facility's west wall against the parking garage and the main entrance along the busiest street in downtown Fort Worth, thus presenting a real challenge to build a vibration- and noise-free facility. Ultimately, the solution came in the form of a dual-floating slab system designed to provide true vibration-free recording stages and soundproofed listening areas. Other measures that further ensured acoustical integrity included installing sound-lock doors, placing noise-producing equipment in a central machine room and implementing a room-within-a-room suite design. In addition, Gordon Ceilings' custom-designed suspended ceiling grids were used for all editing and audio suites.

Another challenge was keeping the old facility online until the new one was fully functional. This took a tremendous amount of planning and coordination, stretching the company's engineering staff to the limit. Not only was it necessary to manage the equipment move, but also the move of the staff and offices. Every engineer logged more than 60 straight working days to effect a smooth transition.

The central machine room is the main hub from which all processes take place. Noise is kept to a minimum within the surrounding edit suites because routing, patching and tape playback occur in this area.

Circle R Media has been in the new facility since May 2005 and is now logging more than 3000 hours per month supporting its clients. Today, the facility's world-class capabilities combine cutting-edge video production, animation and graphics studios, and offer producers, directors and production managers both full production and post-production capabilities.

The three spacious studios are all large enough for staging television productions, as well as the most up-to-date animation, motion capture and 4-D design and production capabilities. The facility also offers the company's clients enhanced capacity for national television spot production.

In addition to the studios, the new facility features nine video and audio edit suites, video and audio control rooms, sound booths, an engineering lab, a conference room that seats 30, duplication and replication rooms, a tape library and archive, dressing areas, a commissary, a master control room, and office area for 15 employees.

More important than the space, however, are the technological capabilities offered by the advanced motion capture laboratory, which can handle up to five “mo-cap” figures in a single shoot and a 4-D video process capable of producing amusement park-quality videos and studios for retail, sales motivation and other corporate applications. In addition to advanced production capabilities, the company also provides clients with a wide range of professional services, such as Internet simulcast, network origination, digital satellite network integration, broadcast equipment installations, syndication uplinking, studio remotes and network news inserts.

Tim Davis is chief operating officer and chief technology officer of Circle R Media and a 30-year veteran of the broadcast engineering field.

Design team

Barbara O'Toole, president

Beck Associates

Circle R Media
Tim Davis, COO/CTO

ILS Integrated Lighting Systems
Rob Boltinghouse, president, CEO

Russ Berger Design Group
Richard Schrag, design principal, acoustics and architectural engineering

Technology at work

Apple Final Cut Pro HD NLE

Media Composer Adreneline
Symphony NLE

DeSisti trackable hoist system

Digidesign Protools HD 2 Accel audio editor

ETC Express light dimmers

Inscriber INCA HD/SD CG

Leitch Integrator Gold Series SDI video routing switcher

AJ-HDX400 HD cameras

Ross Synergy 2 switcher

BVP-700A studio camera
DVW-500A digital recorder
DSR-2000 DVCAM recorder


Videotek VTM440HD/SD rasterizer

Wohler LM106-6AC3 audio monitoring